Android search engine auction goes 'against spirit of EU ruling', rivals claim

Google accused of profiteering over alternative search engine lists at the expense of competition

Google has been criticised for its new system of surfacing alternative search engines for Android users that involves companies bidding against each other to secure a place on a promoted list.

From March onwards, new Android customers will have a choice of four different search engines to select as the default when setting up a new device.

But each bidding company will have to pay Google when it's selected as the default search engine and the process will be repeated every four months, with only three winners selected each time and the fourth place always going to Google.

The change is in response to the European Commission's ruling which found that Google was abusing its monopoly by tying its search engine to Android-based smartphones and tablets and sidelining rival browsers.

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However, companies such as privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, have criticised the practice as only those companies that are able to outbid their rivals stand a chance of appearing on the list.

"A search preference menu can be an excellent way to increase consumer choice, but a pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots isn't right because consumers aren't getting all the choices they deserve and Google profits at the expense of the competition," DuckDuckGo tweeted.

Users within 31 different EU countries will each get their own list of four search engines, but the auction process is the same for each. Rivals will have to inform Google how much it is willing to pay to appear on a user's device, with the three highest bidders then being shown to the user.

For the UK, Info.com, DuckDuckGo and Bing are listed as options, although Microsoft's search engine did not appear in any other country list. French search engine Qwant and Russian-based Yandex feature heavily throughout the 31 lists.

German search engine Ecosia boycotted the auction as it believes the process is "at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling."

"Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open and federated internet," the company's CEO told BBC News. "Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android?"

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